In One Ear and Into The Memory Banks

The effects of transcribing interviews

"This is Simone Gewirth. I am interviewing Thomas and Martha Moore for the Uni High WILL oral history project on the history of the right to marry." I heard as the outrageously large sound file finishes downloading onto my computer. Clocking in at one hour, fifty-three minutes, and fifty-five seconds, the task seemed daunting. What was my task? To transcribe.  It is not something difficult to do, but it takes a lot of time. One minute of audio might take anywhere from five minutes to fifteen minutes, depending on how rapidly and intelligibly the subject is speaking. After that process, one must then listen back to the entire segment to make sure there is no variation what so ever.

During the Subfreshman Oral history project, each team of students is responsible for transcribing their interview. However, the Moores were not interviewed by subfreshmen. They were interviewed by interns. What this means is, while various intern teams were delegated to transcribe, some portions were forgotten or missed all together. That meant it was my job to listen to the interview and find what was missing.

Though it seems tedious and time consuming, I was eager to begin transcribing! In the classroom setting the most efficient way for me to learn is to take notes as teachers lecture. I know that for me the best way to learn is to do so actively. Memorization of facts is simply easier for me after writing them down and following along  in class faithfully. This being said, it is no surprise that transcription is just my cup of tea. 

Reading the transcripts brings you closer to interviewees. Reading the transcripts is only two steps away from being in the actual interview. One step closer to being there, is listening to the transcript. 

As I listened intently, following along with Martha Moore through the stories of her childhood and adolescence I felt very connected and invested. It was the sort of feeling you get during the Wizard of Oz when the whole world is in black and white and then everything suddenly springs into color. That is the difference between reading the words and hearing them. 

Later on in the interview the transcript became very choppy. It was paraphrased and some portions were boiled down to just one or two words. That's when the real work began. I commenced the dance of my fingers along the key board as rapidly as words tumbled into my ears. I was constantly jumping from the play/pause button to the keys. Then I would rewind the section and listen to it to make sure my transcriptions matched up with the audio. I heard each segment three or four times each before I was satisfied with my work. But sometimes I just wanted to listen again and again. After a while, I was even to the point of quoting and using information from the interview when talking about civil rights and marriage rights with my family. Ultimately we want to share stories about love as we move forward with marriage equality.

Stories about love are timeless. They are ever relatable. The context about marriage has changed overtime and certainly shaped our world but essentially, Thom said it best: "I think after we got started it was like, 'look. What’s so hard about interracial marriages?' Who’s taking out the garbage and if you say you’re taking out the garbage take it out, don’t just leave it there for someone else. Remember to pick up the paper when it’s on the floor. It’s just living your life. There’s nothing different about it. It’s the same problems that people-- when you have more than one person living together. When you add another person that changes the dynamics. There’s nothing unique about this."

I am not denying that there were trials. I am not denying that I felt waves of sadness when I heard that Martha has never reconciled with one of her brothers over her marriage to Thom. But what I am saying is that in an interview we are given the opportunity to see into another person's life, and to be honest their lives aren't that different from yours and mine. 

I'd like to close with another quote from Thom Moore. I remember this one distinctly and believe it is a philosophy that we all can benefit from. He said, "the fact [is] that you could deny rights to people. I think that people should be allowed to do what they want to do. Marry who you want to marry." And that is just one example of the effects of transcription.

The stories of the Moores went in one ear, but are forever a part of the way I see the world.

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